A Chinese national admitted in federal court Thursday that he stole a trade secret while working for Monsanto and one of its subsidiaries in Missouri, federal prosecutors said.
Haitao Xiang, 44, formerly from Chesterfield, Missouri, pleaded guilty to the industrial espionage conspiracy. He was indicted on eight counts by a grand jury in 2019.
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Prosecutors said in a press release that Xiang transferred a trade secret to a memory card and then attempted to get it into China for the benefit of the Chinese government.
Xiang worked as an imaging scientist for Monsanto and one of its subsidiaries, The Climate Corporation, from 2008 to 2017.
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Court records say Monsanto and The Climate Corporation developed an online digital agricultural software platform that helps farmers collect field data to improve productivity.
Part of the platform was an algorithm called Nutrient Optimizer, which companies considered a trade secret and their intellectual property, prosecutors said.
In June 2017, the day after he left the company, Xiang tried to fly to China. During a search, investigators found that one of Xiang’s electronic devices contained copies of the nutrient optimizer, prosecutors said.
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Xiang flew to China, where he worked for the Soil Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was arrested on his return to the United States.
He will be sentenced on April 7th.